Equine Law Matter - Closed - Get Information, Read Court Documents


No. CIV 1300526
On December 27,2012, the Marin Humane Society wrongfully seized a warmblood breeding
stallion named Romantic Star from its local keeper, Jill Burnell at Chileno Valley Road in Marin
County, California. The Society did so without justification. It thereafter refused to release that
stallion to its lawful owner, Ronda Stavisky, Ph.D., who had purchased the stallion for $100,000
on December 18, 2012. Dr. Stavisky has demonstrated to the Society her ownership and ability
to provide necessary care for her stallion at her breeding facility in Georgia to the Society prior
to filing this Complaint. The Society refused her demand because it contends the stallion is
“evidence, in a criminal investigation.” Nonetheless, by operation of law, should the Burnells
not pay unproven and non-reviewed ”lien” amounts demanded by the Society, her horse will be
deemed abandoned to the Society. Thereafter, the Society may dispose of this extremely
valuable breeding stallion as it will without recompense or further process or acknowledgement
of Dr. Stavisky’s ownership claims.
On December 27,2012, the Society interfered with PLAINTIFF’s direction to her
veterinarian to manage the care of Romantic Star, or to ascertain his true condition on the date of
seizure up to and precluding her effort to have the stallion removed to the Large Animal Clinic
for evaluation. Since December 27, 2012, the Society has engaged in and promoted
unprivileged slander of title (and reputation) of Dr. Stavisky, interfered with her breeding
contracts, prevented her enjoyment of any privilege of ownership including information about,
possession and management of Romantic Star. The Society conducted unconsented to and
intrusive testing ofRomantic Star at least between December 27,2012 and January 24,2013.
For no more reason that Dr. Stavisky is the horse’s owner, most recently, the Society has
threatened Dr. Stavisky with criminal prosecution.
The Society’s unprivileged conduct has caused Dr. Stavisky harm in her personal and
professional reputation, and has subjected her to an onslaught of unwarranted verbal and
emotional abuse by strangers, potential and former clients, and acquaintances, as well as causing
her significant financial damage and damage to her horse breeding business in an amount not
less than $100,000, but which will be demonstrated by proof at trial.
1. PLAINTIFF RONDA STAVISKY (“PLAINTIFF” or Dr. Stavisky) at all times relevant
herein is a resident of Polk County, Georgia and conducts business as Rising Star Farm.
Dr. Stavisky is the owner of a valuable stallion called Romantic Star.
is a private California registered 50l(c) (3) non-profit organization, incorporated in the State of
California with its principal place of business located in Novato, California. The Society took
possession of Romantic Star within Marin County. In addition, at all times relevant herein is
independently empowered by the State of California, in the County located to
… enter into a contract … with the county … to enforce the provisions of laws of
this state for the prevention of cruelty to animals, or arresting or prosecuting
offenders thereunder, or preventing cruelty to animals [and] … may perform those
actions in the absence of a contract with a city, city an county, or county.(California Corporations Code § 14501 ). DEFENDANT has been designated as “the animal
services agency for [Marin] county,” charged with administering the provisions of the Marin
Municipal Code Chapter 8.04-Animal Control-
and the laws of the state of California relating to the care, treatment and impounding of animals,
and specifically to issue citations and to make arrests for violations of the provisions
of this chapter and related state laws”- and “take up, impound and
safely keep any animals where authorized under the provisions of [Chapter 8.04]
or the laws of this state.”
(MarinMuni. Code§§ 8.04.110; 8.04.120 (b) and (c).)
Further to a joint powers agreement, the Marin Humane Society exercises that authority as an
independent contractor to and not an agency of the County of Marin
3. PLAINTIFF does not know the true names of DEFENDANT DOE 1 through 25,
inclusive. Therefore, PLAINTIFF sues these DEFENDANTS by those fictitious names.
PLAINTIFF is informed and believes and on that basis alleges that one or more of the DOE
DEFENDANTS at all times mentioned in this complaint, may be the agents and/or employees of
one or more of their co-defendants. To the extent that persons and entities now known to
PLAINTIFF were doing the things alleged in this complaint, if they were not acting within the
course and scope of their agency and employment with the Marin Humane Society, they may
later be individually named.
4. Marin County Superior Court is the proper court for this action because
DEFENDANT may be found in Marin County, conducts its business in Marin County, and
removed PLAINTIFF’s stallion, Romantic Star, from Marin County where he was last known to
PLAINTIFF to reside with her consent.
5. Dr. Stavisky is the owner of a horse, Romantic Star, a registered Hanoverian stallion,
purchased upon various terms and conditions for $100,000 on or about December 18, 2012. She
purchased the stallion for the purpose of earning stud fees in the business of breeding, training
and riding sport horses. Romantic Star’s stud fee had been $1,300 and higher. Because of Dr.
Stavisky’s location in an excellent and active breeding market she intended to raise his fee and
began a marketing campaign to maximize Romantic Star’s earning potential, including arranging
breeding contracts.
6. Romantic Star is an Imported, Elite Hanoverian Stallion. He was performance tested
in Germany and received high scores for his character, temperament, willingness, and rideability.
His jumping technique and score earned him a nomination to the Hanoverian Jumper Breeding
Program. From the American Hanoverian Society website:
In 2005, the AHS established the Jumper Breeding Program (JBP), which is based in part
on the successful experience of the Programm Hannoveraner Springpferdezucht (PHS)
established in 1993 in Germany. A cooperative effort between the AHS and the two
regional Hanoverian breeding clubs in Canada, the Jumper Breeding Program is intended
to promote the breeding of high quality Hanoverian show jumping horses in North
America. To be selected for the program, mares and stallions must have both an
appropriate jumping pedigree and demonstrated jumping ability or offspring with
demonstrated jumping ability.
Stallion requirements:
• A score of at least 125 in the jumping index of the stallion performance test;
•A jumping score of 8.5 in the stallion performance test;
• A successful competition record, examples of which include placings in show jumping at
USEF levels 8/9 (5 times in 1st to 3rd pl~ce) or Equine Canada equivalent; participation
at international levels of competition or qualification for World Breeding Championships
for Young Jumpers or the Bundeschampionate in Germany;
•Offspring with successful competition records; or
• A breeding value for jumping of at least 120. By way of example, the stallion’s success
in USEF level 8/9 jumping competitions, experience at international levels of competition,
or qualification to participate in the World Championships for young show jumpers or the
offspring’s successes at USEF level 7/8 jumping competitions would be factors
considered in favor of including a stallion in the program. Successes in hunter
competitions, however, will not be considered.
7. There are only 23 stallions in the United States (out of 10 I approved Hanoverian
stallions) that are either currently activated or eligible for activation in the Jumper Breeding
Program. Romantic Star is one of those stallions.
8. A December 19, 2012 veterinary inspection by Dr. Paul McEvoy, DVM, generally
indicated the horse’s good health. At the time of purchase through the time of transport, the only
authorized keeper of the stallion, Romantic Star, was Jill Burnell. Thereafter, and all times
relevant to this complaint, the owner of the stallion, Romantic Star, was PLAINTIFF.
9. PLAINTIFF paid for transportation of Romantic Star from Marin County, California
to her farm in Polk County, Georgia. On or before December 21, 2012, the transportation date
was set as December 28 or 29,2012. PLAINTIFF is aware of no other person claiming
ownership of the stallion, Romantic Star, or right to possession of the horse nor, prior to the
actions of the Marin Humane Society complained of in this action, of any possessory or other
liens against the horse.
10. On December 26,2012, in the afternoon the horse Romantic Star got into a stallion
 fight Romantic Star lost. He ended up on the ground, in a muddy paddock with the victorious
stallion standing over him. When the stallions were eventually separated, and Romantic Star
stood up, he was extremely muddy. He had swelling in his face, neck and shoulders, cuts, and
one eye was swelling shut. Romantic Star was seen shortly thereafter by a veterinarian who
administered antibiotics. Although extremely muddy and bruised, the veterinarian determined
that it was unlikely that Romantic Star had suffered any broken bones (the horse was eating and
drinking normally and was standing and moving normally). He recommended that the horse be
moved for a more thorough examination. He did not require that further examination be made
within any particular time frame. No one refused to take the horse to UC Davis or off the
property for further examination.
11. On the afternoon and evening ofDecember 26,2012, the dirt road in and out of the
Bumells’ property was poor and was unlit. No veterinarian deemed it necessary to traverse the
unlit, hillside, dirt road with a large, heavy horse trailer in a non-emergency circumstance.
12. The veterinarian who saw the stallion’s injuries on December 26, 2012 (a mandatory
reporter of abuse pursuant to Business & Professions Code section 4830.7) did not report that the
injuries were life threatening or more dangerous to the horse and its human caretakers than
would attempts to remove the horse from the Bumells’ property in the dark. No veterinarian who
examined Romantic Star immediately subsequent to the December 26 stallion fight reported any
medical exigency which demanded immediate transport of Romantic Star to any location other
than his customary paddock on the Burnell property.
13. Jill Burnell, an experienced horse breeder and manager as well as a licensed critical
care nurse remained on the property overnight with the stallion, checking on his condition and
ministering to his medical needs every hour or two. She reported on the stallion’s condition to
PLAINTIFF as requested.
14. On December 27, 2012 in the morning, Dr. McEvoy was again on the Burnells’
property to inspect (and did inspect) the horse for PLAINTIFF. Dr. Stavisky instructed Jill
Burnell and Dr. McEvoy to have the horse transported to UC Davis Large Animal Clinic or other
location as in Dr. McEvoy’s opinion was in the best interest of the stallion.
15. In Dr. McEvoy’s opinion, Romantic Star was best evaluated at the UC Davis facilities.
16. Unknown to either PLAINTIFF or to Dr. McEvoy at the time that he was engaged to
evaluate Romantic Star’s injuries from the stallion fight, Sergeant Michelle Rogers of the Society
had decided to remove the stallion from the Burnells’ property.
17. Denying Dr. Stavisky’s ownership and right as an owner to have the horse transported,
the Society refused to permit the transportation of Romantic Star from the property by the horse
hauler previously hired by the Bumells and PLAINTIFF for that purpose.
18. Only after the Society conducted a warrantless search of the Burnells’ property and
seized one other horse (a mare, “Pookie”), did it then permit the transportation of Romantic Star
by its own officers to UC Davis Large Animal Clinic in Davis, California.
19. The Society then posted on the Internet a request for donations based upon their abuse
claims, specifically naming Romantic Star, again without the consent of Dr. Stavisky.
20. Upon information and belief, the Society’s appeal for donations has raised over
$23,000 for care of the horses seized from Burnells’ property, including Romantic Star.
21. On December 27, 2012 at the UC Davis Large Animal Clinic, Romantic Star’s
physical exam noted that his right eye was swollen, but visual, that he had numerous cuts and
bruises toward the front of his body, but especially on his head, neck and chest. He received
additional antibiotics and anti-inflammatories (as he had received while at the Bumells’ property).
At UC Davis, one clinician gave him a body condition score of”3/6″ and another “3+/9”. He
received a thorough bathing and Curasalt gauze was placed on cuts on his face together with a
topical antibiotic. His jaw was freely movable and did not give him pain. He could ambulate,
eat and drink normally. To equate to human terms, the stallion had the tar beat out of him and
ended up with a black eye and some. loose teeth. He was fit to be released to any person who
could administer anti-inflammatories and antibiotics from the moment of his arrival at UC Davis,
and certainly would have been discharged no later than December 30, 2012 but for his celebrity
status as an animal seized by the Society and being examined as part of its ongoing investigation.
22. Despite reports to the media that Romantic Star required seizure for broken bones,
malnourishment and other scandalous-if-true (but not in fact true) conditions, UC Davis Large
Animal Clinic records shows Romantic Star was at ALL TIMES stable. He was injured in the
stallion fight but never in any danger. He was also very muddy and required a bath. ALL of the
treatments could have been done at home with follow up vet visits to monitor progress of healing.
His body condition score did not reflect malnourishment or neglect. His bloodwork and
chemistry panels were all within normal limits.
23. On December 26,2012, Romantic Star sustained abrasions and lacerations, primarily
to his head and neck. There is expected swelling associated with these wounds and Romantic
Star had head edema and one eye was swollen closed (small corneal ulcer). Some of his teeth
were damaged from the fight as well. One leg also had some swelling. All of the wounds
improved daily and Romantic Star – from the start – was eating, drinking and moving normally.
Cleaning wounds with diluted betadine, applying ointment to wounds, applying triple antibiotic
ointment and atropine to eye, cold hosing legs, administering analgesics and anti-inflammatory
medication, and administration of injectable antibiotics was the level of care that was required
(something easily done at home). Romantic Star was dewormed, had his teeth floated and his
feet trimmed (also standard home care). Nothing about his condition required hospitalization
beyond his initial evaluation. Every treatment (and followup) could easily have been done at
home or in a boarding facility and were “non-emergency” care. Basically, after his intake exam
and bath he was cleaned up, had ointment and a Curasalt ™ dressing (an equine “Bandaid”)
24. On January 3, 2013, the Society gave notice to the Bumells (but not PLAINTIFF) of
a Penal Code 597.1 Post Seizure Hearing concerning horses “believed to be owned by Jill and
Alex Burnell, including Romantic Star. It hired Albert Burnham as its hearing officer, as it had
numerous times previously, at the rate of $125 per hour to determine that its seizure was justified,
the horses seized were not fit to be released from the Society’s care, and that the owners of the
horses were not capable of providing necessary care for the horses, as he had on every prior
occasion when hired by the Society to do so when those matters were contested.
25. On January 8, 2013, the hearing officer, Mr. Albert Burnham, received Dr. Stavisky’s
declaration of ownership of the stallion, Romantic Star, including all of the following written
testimony made under the penalty of perjury:
I am the owner of the stallion Romantic Star. I understand my horse to have been seized
by Marin Humane Society on December 27, 2012 from Jill Burnell’s property.
Jill Burnell contacted me immediately following the incident between Romantic Star and
Aloha. At that time I asked her to contact Dr. Paul McEvoy to come out and evaluate him,
and if Dr. McEvoy deemed necessary, to transport the stallion to UC Davis for treatment.
I had previously hired Dr. McEvoy to inspect and test the horse for transportation to me
in Georgia. Dr. McEvoy already had my payment information on record, and I have a
copy of the invoice from Dr. McEvoy’s office for the emergency call, consultation and
evaluation of Romantic Star following the incident.
When I was contacted by Michelle Rogers from MRS [Marin Humane Society], I
informed her that arrangements had been made to either take Romantic to a stable where
he could recuperate or to. UC Davis depending on the severity of injuries and the
recommendation of the veterinarian. I was adamant in my assertion that the well being of
the stallion was of paramount importance and that I would do whatever was necessary for
his safety and well-being based on the advice of the stallion’s treating veterinarian, Dr.
McEvoy. To date, Marin Humane Society has not apprised me or my representatives of
the condition of the stallion.”
26. On January 14, 2013, Mr. Burnham found that the Bumells received legal notice but
did not address PLAINTIFF’s right to legal notice. Although the Society’s officers testified that
they knew of and had spoken with PLAINTIFF, they did not attempt to have her appear at the
post-seizure hearing or to offer the opportunity to present oral testimony.
27. Mr. Burnham made no finding with respect to PLAINTIFF in his discussion of “Issue
#1 Were the seizures of Romantic Star and Pookie Justified,, and while remarking on Dr.
McEvoy’s concurrence that Romantic Star be transported to UC Davis failed to note that Dr.
McEvoy was present at the scene at PLAINTIFF’s request and expense. Mr. Burnham took no
testimony from any treating veterinarian from December 26 or 27 (only the hearsay testimony of
Sergeant Rogers describing what she recalled they said or did) nor did the Society call any
qualified witness from UC Davis regarding the condition of Romantic Star at the time of the
hearing. Although available to the Society (the Burnells were prohibited from compelling the
attendance of witnesses under the Society’s proceedings), the Society did not call any witness
who had been present at the Burnell property at the time of or after the stallion fight December 26, 2012.
28. Mr. Burnham made no finding whether Romantic Star was fit to be returned to
PLAINTIFF. Mr. Burnham made no finding whether PLAINTIFF had or could demonstrate her
ability to provide the necessary care for Romantic Star.
29. Mr. Burnham characterized the Society’s testimony as unopposed, and negatively
commented on the fact that the Bum.ells had not testified on the advice of counsel (but not that
the context was the Society’s ongoing criminal investigation and threats of criminal prosecution).
Because PLAINTIFF was not present to be cross-examined he rejected her written sworn
testimony, saying only: ”Ms. (sic) Stavisky claims that she owns Romantic Star. She provides no
proof or documentation of that assertion. She fails to explain why Romantic Star was in the
possession of Respondents on December 27,2012, the date of the seizures. Her declaration,
even if true, does not address the material issues in this case.”
30. On January 17, 2013, the Society wrote to the Burnells, “Please be advised that the
first 21 days of costs for the seizure and care of your two horses (up to an including January 16,
2013) are due to be paid by 5:00p.m. February 4, 2013 [that date has been continued by
agreement to February 18, 2013]. A list of those costs is included with this letter. If these
charges are not paid by then your horses may be deemed abandoned pursuant to Penal Code
597.1 and become the property of the Marin Humane Society. [Please note that if the charges
are paid, you will also be responsible for all future costs of impoundment and care/treatment of
your horses, after today and up until the time their final disposition is determined, and such costs
shall constitute a lien on the animals. We will only accept cash, certified check, or a money
order.” The List of Fees attached to that correspondence claimed $6,302.10 “Total Due
‘Romantic Star”‘. No invoices or description of why or to whom monies were paid was included
other than “Impound Fee $200.00; Trailering Fee $156.00, Board ($75/day) $1 ,575.00, and
Veterinary Care $4,371.00.” On February 4, 2013, the Society acknowledged that the $75 per
day board fee was improper. There was no accounting provided of money raised by the Internet
website campaign for the purpose of caring for Romantic Star.
31. On January 29,2013, PLAINTIFF again requested the return of her stallion.
On January 30, 2013, the Society responded, denying PLAINTIFF’s request stating, inter alia:
“Romantic Star will not be released at this time and we cannot predict when he may possibly be
able to be released -or if he will ever be able to be released to his owner. “
32. Plaintiff re-alleges and incorporates by reference the allegations set forth in each
preceding Paragraph of this Complaint. PLAINTIFF claims that DEFENDANT wrongfully
exercised control and dominion over her stallion, Romantic Star.
33. PLAINTIFF owned the stallion Romantic Star;
34. DEFENDANT intentionally took possession of Romantic Star on December 27, 2012
and continues to keep him from PLAINTIFF at least through February 4, 2013 the date of
the filing of this complaint.
35. PLAINTIFF did not consent to the taking;
36. PLAINTIFF was harmed by the taking; and
37. DEFENDANT’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing PLAINTIFF’S harm.
38. Further, DEFENDANT acted with malice, fraud and/or oppression in the conduct
alleged above. DEFENDANT acted with intent to cause injury to PLAINTIFF and/or
DEFENDANT’S conduct was despicable and was one with a willful and knowing disregard of
the rights or safety of PLAINTIFF or another. Additionally or alternatively, DEFENDANT acted
with knowing disregard of PLAINTIFF’s rights, title and interest, and was aware of the probable
dangerous consequences and likelihood of harm to PLAINTIFF of his, her, or its conduct and
deliberately failed to avoid those consequences. DEFENDANT’S conduct was despicable and
subjected PLAINTIFF to cruel and unjust hardship in lotowing disregard of her rights.
DEFENDANT’s conduct in the above alleged acts is conduct that is so vile, base, or
contemptible that it would be looked down on and despised by reasonable people.PRAYER FOR RELlEFWHEREFORE, PLAINTIFF prays that judgment be entered against the DEFENDANT as

1. Ordering DEFENDANT to return Romantic Star to Plaintiff immediately;
2. Preliminarily and permanently enjoining DEFENDANT, and any person associated with
them from use of Plaintiffs name, likeness or that of Romantic Star as an unfair method
of competition and/or other wrongful acts;
3. Disgorging any monies from donors collected as a result of DEFENDANT’s use of
Plaintiff’s name, likeness, Romantic Star, or other unprivileged and or unconsented to
activities using PLAINTIFF’s property and business opportunities to DEFENDANT’s
4. Awarding PLAINTIFF her actual damages sustained as a result of DEFENDANT’s
unlawful conduct, in an amount to be proven at trial, plus pre-judgment and postjudgment
interest thereon at the legal rate until paid in full;
5. Awarding PLAINTIFF punitive, special, and/or exemplary damages
6. Awarding Plaintiffreasonable attorneys’ fees and expenses accrued and accruing herein,
plus interest thereon at the legal rate from the date judgment is entered until paid in full
as may be available by contract, statute or the common law as a cost necessary to incur to
achieve the return of her property and her good name;
7. Awarding Plaintiff its costs accrued and accruing herein, plus interest thereon at the legal
rate from the date judgment is entered until paid in full;
8. Trial by jury, and
9. Awarding Plaintiff such other and further relief as the Court deems just and proper.
Robert Weems

UPDATE: Warmblood Breeder Investigated for Possible Horse Neglect